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Ecological Consequences of Pre-Contact Harvesting of Bay of Islands fish and Shellfish, and Other Marine Taxa, Based on Midden Evidence

John Booth


Midden contents – especially those that have associated dates – can provide compelling evidence concerning the effects of human harvesting on the diversity, distribution, abundance, and mean individual-size of shallow-water marine stocks. Archaeological Site Recording Scheme Site Record Forms for the 767 Bay of Islands middens as of August 2014 were summarised according to contents; these included 28 calibrated dates associated with 16 individual sites. The oldest site was first settled possibly as early as the 13th Century. By the time of European contact, the population of the Bay of Islands was possibly as great as 10,000 (over half the resident population today), yet it seems that the 500 years of harvesting pressure left no lasting legacy on Bay of Islands’ fish and shellfish resources – with the probable exception of the fishing-out of local populations of the Cook Strait limpet, and possibly the overfishing of hapuku in shallow waters. Marine mammal and seabird bones were only reported from Early and Early/Middle Period middens, consistent with the rapid extirpation and extinction of taxa after human arrival in the northeast of the North Island.


Bay of Islands; middens; fish; shellfish; seabird; marine mammal; ecological impact

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ISSN (print) 1179 4704; ISSN (online) 1179 4712
Published with the assistance of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of Otago.
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